Raking leaves can do a number on your back. One of the most common complaints we hear in Physical Therapy is lower back pain from doing yard work, especially in Autumn. The repetitive movements, constant bending, and frequent lifting can cause strain and even injury. There is also a higher risk of falling on slippery, damp leaves this time of year. While raking the yard can leave you exhausted, there are steps you can take to avoid also being in pain. Raking is a workout, you need to use the right equipment, warm-up, and exercise with the right technique to avoid injury.
Before we get into the tips for raking leaves, we would like to note a few alternative options that may provide less strain. At the top of the list is to avoid raking leaves at all, it is actually better for your yawn and garden! Landscaping experts have recently advised doing no more to the leaves scattering your lawn than to mow them to speed along decomposition. Leaves offer free nutrients for grass and plants as they break down into healthy organic matter for the soil. If you just cannot stand the look of leaves in your yard, find mowing them difficult, or have an H.O.A. that requires this yard upkeep, you can also invest in a leaf blower. While a heavier leaf blower could take a toll for those who already have muscle or back pain, it can prevent those pains for other individuals as long as proper protective straps and gloves are used to evenly distribute the weight. Finally, for anyone with prior conditions or injuries, while yard work could be a great way to stay active, sometimes it may be best to have someone else take care of more strenuous tasks like cleaning up leaves.
If you do still plan on raking leaves yourself, rather than pursuing any of the other listed methods, we have a few tips you can follow to keep your muscles and back safe:
- Size– Make sure you choose the rake for your height. If your rake is too short or too long, your posture will adapt to compensate. Maintaining that awkward posture throughout raking will strain back muscles, ligaments, and tendons.
- Warm-ups– Whenever doing physical activity, it is imperative to warm up your muscles to prevent strain and overexertion. Bend over and touch your toes a few times, twist side to side with your arms out, or try to bend your nose to your knees when seated. These three stretches will prepare your back muscles, preventing injury.
- Posture– Keep your legs slightly bent, keep your weight directly over your hips and knees, and extend with your arms. Use your arms to rake the leaves, not your back. This can go a long way toward preventing lower back pain.
- Switch Hands– At least every 15 minutes, switch which hand is on the top and which is on the bottom. This will alternate which side of your body is doing the most work.
- Mind the Weather– When you rake leaves be sure to choose a dry day and rake with the wind. Wet leaves are slippery, heavier, and a breeding ground for mold. Raking with the wind will lead to less work because it will be easier to gather leaves. Prevent extra effort, allergies, falls, and back pain.
Now that you are equipped with the right tools for the job, hopefully you can enjoy the movement and physical activity raking brings to your life, without the stress or back pain.